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Review: Art School Girlfriend – 22/11/19 – Surf Cafe, Tynemouth

27/11/2019

Art School Girlfriend’s set took place at the Surf Cafe in Tynemouth, a charmingly chaotic space dotted with fairy lights and filled with a collection of miscellaneous objects which looked as though they had been washed up onto the cafe’s shore…

Support artist Rock turned the space into a dream-like watery soundscape with spooky samples and a noisy vulnerability through their moving combination of intense rhythms and soft vocals. 

Rock introduced sounds reminiscent of breathing and a beating heart. This theme continued throughout both sets with Art School Girlfriend beginning their performance with a metronomic heartbeat. Lead singer and founder of the band Polly Mackey sulked sensually into the mic and filled the room with gentle, growing noise. Mackey used to be part of shoegaze band Deaf Club, and this influence has audibly translated itself into Art School Girlfriend’s dreamy sadness and chaotic ambience. Intense bass was layered with streams of electronic sound and pierced by confident and rhythmically surprising drums. 

The band have a wintry energy that established a cinematic atmosphere, as though we are all in a film and they were a living breathing soundtrack. Art School Girlfriend effectively built drama throughout their set in a lulling yet captivating way and an unexpected emptiness came from this. It wasn’t clear if this was deliberate, but it felt as if the audience were a collection of voyeurs watching an emotional journey that they could not connect to; we were witnessing the music rather than feeling it. This was not necessarily a negative thing, in fact, it was unlike many concerts I had been to. 

The detached “cool girl” persona presented by Mackey complemented the bleak musical landscape established by the band. This was a landscape that felt cold, windy and distant, yet oddly moving and dramatic in its emptiness. Lyric, “when did I get so serious,” from track ‘Diving’ sums this feeling up pretty well.  

In her interactions with the audience, Mackey was rather withdrawn and surprisingly timid, saying of a new song they played, “this is the first time, so be kind.” After beginning the new track, she interrupted herself, “hang on, can we start again please? Sorry.” This was the most human the set felt, but I found the lack of interaction intriguing.

Instrumentally, the band offered a hypnotic array of rhythms and beats, paired with captivating harmonies. The warped pitches, electronic experimentation and repetition of lyrics blended the songs together into a static sound that after a while felt like one big yawn, a beautiful yawn nonetheless. Towards the end of the set, Mackey sighed into the mic, “gonna play a bit of a slow one now, feel free to slow dance.” Art School Girlfriend’s electronic melancholic set brought the sea in from outside: lyrical repetition echoed and expanded with flowing instrumentals and subtly dramatic rhythms to create a musical tide.

photo: Victoria wai

Words: ROSIE MCCRUM

You’ll find more photos from the mesmerising gig over at our Gig Gallery!

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